(OZY) Picture this: Snow on the ground, laser lights and a faux Russian village, as the bride and groom are carried in a horse-drawn sleigh down the aisle. This is the stuff of royal weddings, pageantry played out for the people, and in Britain or Denmark or Monaco it’d be splashed over the front pages and talked about for weeks. But this snow-globe scene — allegedly the wedding of Vladimir Putin’s daughter Katerina to Kirill Shamalov — can’t even be confirmed.
That’s how they do it in Russia. And that’s why Shamalov, 35, identified by Forbes as Russia’s youngest billionaire, is referred to in the foreign press as Putin’s son-in-law even though officials refuse to confirm any details about his private life. With a dearth of independent media operating in Russia, privacy is actually possible for Putin. And while there are negatives to a lack of press scrutiny, it’s also allowed Putin’s family to have a private life, says Dr. Karen Dawisha, author of Putin’s Kleptocracy, who notes that over 30 years there are vanishingly few photos of his family. She pinpoints the president’s KGB training as the origin of his focus on personal secrecy. […]
Vladimir Gelman, a professor of political science at European University at St. Petersburg and the University of Helsinki, says while crony capitalism is rampant around the world, Russia’s special for its plethora of state-owned businesses whose top management are closely linked to each other and state leaders. Gelman says personal profit is a motivation for seeding these jobs with the politically powerful and connected. But, he adds, “it’s not just a kleptocracy. Very often these companies are engaged in serving strategic purposes of the Russian state in terms of foreign policies.”
But looking at autocracies around the world, Gelman says Shamalov is unlikely to ascend. “Most leadership succession of this kind, because of family ties, is unsuccessful.” Gelman believes it’s more likely to be anything but a smooth transfer of power — “especially for not a son, but a son-in-law” — because autocracies with no official successor often get consumed by the squabbling of various elite groups competing to fill the power vacuum.
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